The Memphis principal at the center of a yearlong investigation into harassment and improper grade changing has been reassigned to a district-level position, Shelby County Schools officials said Friday.
Terry Ross, who had served as principal at Kingsbury High School since 2014, was suspended with pay a year ago pending completion of the investigation. He now will be a highly specialized advisor with a new program for schools leaving the district’s most rigorous program for low-performing schools.
Ross’s salary was about $121,000 as of March 2018. District officials did not say how much his new salary is or whether the job is a lateral move, a promotion, or a demotion.
A district spokeswoman said Shelby County Schools’ legal team was working to release the findings and she could only share Ross’ employment status. She declined to comment on why the investigation took a year because an external law firm handled the case. Chalkbeat has been requesting information about the case since October.
“Too hasty of an action could cost taxpayers millions of dollars on litigation,” Jerica Phillips told Chalkbeat. On paying Ross while the investigation was ongoing: “We can’t penalize an employee while there’s still an investigation going on until we substantiate the allegations.”
No one responded Friday to an email or voicemail to a cell phone the district issued to Ross before the suspension.
The reassignment to a district-level position comes more than a year after Alesia Harris, a Kingsbury High teacher at the time, accused Ross of harassment and directing another employee to change 17 students’ exam grades from failing to 100%. The district said at the time the allegation was “inaccurate” and the grade changes were a mistake.
The district hired law firm Butler Snow about a month later to investigate the harassment claims. Two former Kingsbury High teachers said earlier this year that investigators questioned them about Ross’ involvement with their grades, implying the probe had widened to include improper grade changing. District officials declined to discuss the findings until its legal team released the report.
A Chalkbeat review of Ross’ personnel file last August revealed at least four teachers and a school counselor have accused him of pressuring them to promote or graduate students who were failing.
Ross was not the first principal to be investigated for improper grade changing. Hamilton High School’s former principal Monekea Smith was demoted in January 2018 after the district said unauthorized changes in grades were made by someone using her computer login credentials. The district fired a coach and secretary at Trezevant High School, where probes into grade changing began in 2017.
A larger investigation into grade changes across several Memphis high schools ended in September when the accounting firm conducting the probe could not find enough paperwork to determine if there was wrongdoing.
Since then, the district has ordered more staff training on inputting and editing grades, purchased software to perform data analysis on grades, and hired four compliance advisors to oversee the changes. Before the district halted the investigation, leaders had already restricted the number of employees authorized to change a student’s report card or transcript, and required monthly reports from principals detailing any grade changes.
The interim principal at Kingsbury High, Shenar Miller, will continue until a permanent replacement is named, Phillips said.
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